Thu 02 Aug
In the next few days I expect — or at least I hope — we’ll see a lot of thoughtful remembrances of the life and work of the great Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, who died on Monday at the age of ninety-four. Here’s the Times obituary and critic Stephen Holden’s insightful appraisal, plus an article at Slate that tackles this great loss from the doubly unfortunate angle of having also lost Ingmar Bergman the same day. What a tragic day for film.
These and other articles will give you a much more well-rounded idea of Antonioni’s career and impact than I ever could. Still, I want to add one thing: his 1962 masterwork “L’Eclisse” is among my favorite movies of all time. Few more elegant, exquisitely crafted or beautifully populated essays on alienation have ever been committed to film.
As the last entry in Antonioni’s groundbreaking trilogy about personal isolation against a modern landscape (“L’Avventura ” and “La Notte” immediately preceded it) “L’Eclisse” is, for me, the most perfectly realized expression of the director’s ideas. Like those films, this exploration of postwar Italy’s alienating evolution dispenses with most pretensions of a plot, opting instead to expend much of its energies lingering over the the gorgeous, troubled face of the incomparable Monica Vitti. There are far, far worse ways of spending your time at the cinema.
Here, though, Vitti is ingeniously paired with the French film idol Alain Delon. With his blank and mercenary handsomeness, Delon is an ideal counterpart for Vitti’s searching, aristocratic elegance. The two while away the movie’s hundred and twenty-five minutes with vague, clumsy attempts at creating the barest of meaningful connections with one another. It’s a sometimes funny and often sad dance of circumspection and muted intentions.
Still, “L’Eclisse” is more than just a document of two beautiful people who can᾿t get it on, even as delicately rendered as that pained courtship is. The movie’s closing moments hover disconsolately over several of the outdoor locations visited by its main characters in earlier acts. Except now, in the closing moments of their almost epically pointless journey, the locales are spookily devoid of people, almost abruptly abandoned. A heavy music plays over the images, and unexpectedly turns the whole endeavor into a kind of horror story about disconnected souls. Very little happens in these final frames, and yet they’re amongst the scariest moments of film I’ve ever seen.